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Learning about the Legacies that came before Us...

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Wendell Scott

(02/2024)

The date was Dec. 1, 1963, and the heavily rutted dirt oval track of Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla., had taken out several drivers with broken wheels and axles. Then, with 25 laps left in the 200-lap race, it was Petty’s turn, as the track damaged his vehicle’s steering arm. Scott took the lead. But he got a shock when he looked up at the scoreboard, which usually listed the numbers of the cars in the top five positions: All the numbers had disappeared. When Scott finished the final lap ahead of the other drivers, there was no checkered flag to signal the end of the race. Though Scott had just made history as the first Black driver to win at NASCAR’s top level, his achievement wasn’t initially acknowledged. Instead, the checkered flag, trophy and victory-circle celebration went to Buck Baker, the second-place finisher, whom Scott had lapped twice. NASCAR officials were reportedly concerned about how a White crowd would react to a Black man kissing a White beauty queen in the victory circle, as was customary for the winning driver. It was only after the race was over and the crowd had left that Scott was declared the winner. The incident was par for the course for Scott, NASCAR’s first Black driver and team owner. A native of Danville, Va., Scott saw his racing career marred by racial prejudice, manifesting in death threats, slashed tires and deliberate attempts by competitors to wreck his car. Still, he managed to achieve 147 top-10 finishes in 495 career Grand National starts and finished in the top 10 annual standings for four seasons.

LEGACY: Resources

Garrett Morgan

(01/2024)

Garrett Morgan Saved Countless Lives with Gas Mask. Morgan’s invention was born out of tragedy. A fire enveloped New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist Company on March 25, 1911, killing 146 garment workers—most of them young female immigrants who were locked in the factory. The incident put the inadequacy of fire codes and safety equipment on national display, and Morgan, who had himself once worked in Cleveland’s booming garment industry, decided to try his hand at an effective mask. He attacked a problem that had stymied inventors for years: smoke inhalation. Morgan knew carbon monoxide tends to linger at roughly the level of a standing person’s head, whereas cleaner air hovers closer to the feet. So, he designed his device to draw air through a long tube that hung near the ground like a tail. It diverged at tailbone level into two hoses that snaked up either side of the wearer’s rib cage and below the underarms, finally entering the mask (a hood resembling a beekeeper’s helmet) like serpentine walrus tusks. 

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LEGACY: Resources
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Lewis Latimer

(12/2023)

The light bulb itself was perfected by Thomas Edison, but the innovation used to create longer-lasting light bulbs with a carbon filament came from African American inventor Lewis Latimer. Latimer, the son of formerly enslaved people, began work in a patent law firm after serving in the military for the Union during the Civil War. He was recognized for his talent in drafting patents and was promoted to head draftsman, where he co-invented an improved bathroom for railroad trains. His successes would garner him further attention from the U.S. Electric Lighting Company, putting him at a company in direct competition with Edison, in 1880. While there, Latimer patented a new filament for the light bulb, using carbon instead of more combustible materials, like bamboo, that was commonly used for filaments. The addition of the carbon filament increased the life span and practicality of light bulbs, which had previously died after just a few days. In 1884, he went on to work with Edison at the Edison Electric Light Company.

LEGACY: Resources
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Fredrick Jones

(11/2023)

Frederick McKinley Jones was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on May 17, 1893 to a white father and black mother. His mother deserted him when he was a young child. His father struggled to raise him on his own, but by the time Frederick was 7 years old, he sent young Jones to live with a priest in Kentucky. Two years later, his father died. At the age of 11, with minimal education under his belt, Jones ran away to fend for himself. He returned to Cincinnati and found work doing odd jobs, including as a janitor in a garage where he developed a knack for automobile mechanics. Jones had talent for and an interest in mechanics. He read extensively on the subject in addition to his daily work, educating himself in his spare time. By the time he was twenty, Jones was able to secure an engineering license in Minnesota. He served in the U.S. Army during World War I where he was often called upon to make repairs to machines and other equipment. It was on the Hallock farm that Jones educated himself further in electronics. When the town decided to fund a new radio station, Jones built the transmitter needed to broadcast its programming. He also developed a device to combine moving pictures with sound. Local businessman Joseph A. Numero subsequently hired Jones to improve the sound equipment he produced for the film industry. Over the course of his career, Jones received more than 60 patents. While the majority pertained to refrigeration technologies, others related to X-ray machines, engines and sound equipment. Jones was recognized for his achievements both during his lifetime and after his death. In 1944, he became the first African American elected to the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers. Jones died of lung cancer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on February 21, 1961.

LEGACY: Resources

Lyda Newman

(10/2023)

Lyda Newman was a remarkable Black female inventor who patented the first hairbrush with synthetic bristles. She is the third Black woman to ever receive a patent. She is also known for her activism in the women’s voting rights movement of the early 20th century.  Lyda Newman was born in Ohio sometime between 1865 and 1885. Little is known of Newman’s personal life because women, especially Black women, were treated with disregard at that time. However, census records show that she spent most of her life living in New York City, working as a hairdresser.   
Newman’s decision to improve the design of the hairbrush derived from her own experience as a Black woman and as a hairdresser. She wanted the process of brushing hair to be more hygienic and efficient. Most hairbrushes at the time were made using animal hair, but the material was too soft to effectively treat the thicker texture of African American hair. Newman used synthetic fibers which were more durable and easier to clean. The brush contained evenly spaced rows of bristles with open slots to clear debris away from the hair into a recessed compartment. The back could be opened with a button for cleaning out the compartment. Newman received a patent for her invention on November 15, 1898.

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LEGACY: Resources
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George Sampson

(09/2023)

In 1892, George T. Sampson developed and patented America's first automatic clothes dryer. Like many other entrepreneurs, Sampson did not invent the more contemporary incarnation of the item that made his reputation. Automatic dryers of sorts had been used for the better part of the 19th Century. It usually was some method of speeding the drying over an open flame. People complained that this made their clothes smell of smoke and stained them with soot. Sampson refined the process with a series of suspension rods over a specially designed stove. With this new development, those doing laundry could have a happy medium of drying their clothes quicker no matter the weather and without having to worry about setting garments on fire. This design was used until the growth in use of gas and electric dryers in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

LEGACY: Resources

Dr. George F. Grant

(08/2023)

The next time you reach into your pocket or the zippered lining of your golf bag for a wooden tee, think of Dr. George F. Grant, an African American dentist from Boston. Yes, the ancient practice of preparing a pinched mound of damp sand to elevate a golf ball was trampled without fanfare thanks to Dr. Grant.Born in 1847 in Oswego, New York, Grant worked for his hometown dentist, Dr. Albert Smith first in running errands and later as an assistant. At age 19, Grant left his hometown for Boston, finding work as a dental assistant and at 21 gaining entrance into Harvard Dental School, the first university-based dental program in the nation. In 1870, Grant graduated with honors, the second African American to earn a degree in dentistry. On Dec. 12, 1899, Dr. Grant received a U.S. patent No. 638,920, the world’s first patent for a golf tee – a wooden spike with a flexible rubber peg for the ball. Because Dr. Grant was an inventor and not a marketer, he never reaped the benefits of his innovation. He gave some of the tees – manufactured in a small shop I Arlington Heights – to friends and playing partners. When Grant died of liver disease in 1910, the invention passed with him. Grant developed a love for golf, first at Franklin Park just outside Boston, the second public course in the country. His daughter, Frances, also caddied for him on a meadow course that Grant built next to his country home in Arlington Heights.

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LEGACY: Resources
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Alexander Miles

(07/2023)

Alexander Miles was a successful Black inventor in the late 19th century, best known for inventing elevator doors that could automatically open and close. His invention made riding an elevator much safer, with automatic doors still being a standard feature on modern-day elevators.   
Alexander Miles was born on May 18, 1838 in Circleville, Ohio to Michael and Mary Miles. Sometime in his early adulthood, he moved to Waukesha, Wisconsin where he worked as a barber throughout the 1860s. In 1870, while living in Winona, Minnesota, he met his future wife, Candace J. Dunlap from New York City. After the birth of their daughter, Grace, the family moved again to Duluth, Minnesota.   
Miles experienced great success as a barber in Duluth, opening a barbershop in the four-story St. Louis Hotel. He even used his savings to purchase a real estate office. His business achievements earned him a spot as the first Black member of the Duluth Chamber of Commerce. In 1884, Miles built a three-story brownstone building in an area that became known as the “Miles Block.”

LEGACY: Resources
LEGACY: Resources

Sarah Boone

(06/2023)

Sarah Boone was an African American dressmaker who made her name by inventing the modern-day ironing board. In her patent application, she wrote that the purpose of her invention was "to produce a cheap, simple, convenient and highly effective device, particularly adapted to be used in ironing the sleeves and bodies of ladies' garments." With its approval in 1892, Boone became one of the first African American women to be awarded a patent.

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Madam C.J. Walker

(05/2023)

Madam C. J. Walker (1867-1919) was “the first Black woman millionaire in America” and made her fortune thanks to her homemade line of hair care products for Black women. Born Sarah Breedlove to parents who had been enslaved, she was inspired to create her hair products after an experience with hair loss, which led to the creation of the “Walker system” of hair care. A talented entrepreneur with a knack for self-promotion, Walker built a business empire, at first selling products directly to Black women, then employing “beauty culturalists” to hand-sell her wares. The self-made millionaire used her fortune to fund scholarships for women at the Tuskegee Institute and donated large parts of her wealth to the NAACP, the Black YMCA and other charities.

LEGACY: Resources

Molly Williams

(04/2023)

Molly Williams is the earliest, documented instance of an African America individual, and a woman, in the fire service. Whether she knew it at the time or not, she was both a pioneer for people of color and women in this industry and continues to serve as an inspiration. Molly Williams was an African American woman and a slave of New York City merchant, Benjamin Aymar, in the early 1800’s. The stories differ on how Molly came to be a member of the Ocean Engine Company #11 in Manhattan. Many say Aymar – a volunteer firefighter himself – initially brought her into the fire department to work as a cook.

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LEGACY: Resources
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Jesse LeRoy Brown

(03/2023)

Jesse LeRoy Brown, born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on Oct. 13, 1926 to a sharecropper would be the first black Navy aviator. Jesse Leroy Brown set his sights on flying when he was just a youngster working in Mississippi’s corn and cotton fields. Growing up as the son of a sharecropper, whenever he spotted an airplane overhead, young Jesse would declare that someday he was going to be a pilot. His family always laughed good-naturedly at what they thought of as a joke.But this gifted student and athlete made good his promise soon after World War II ended, becoming the U.S. Navy’s first black flier. 

When he graduated in 1944, he chose to attend a predominantly white college rather than Hampton or Howard as his counselors had suggested. Warned of the prejudice he would he would encounter, Jesse explained that he wanted to study architectural engineering at Ohio State — and he didn’t plan to let any such obstacles get in his way.That fall he became the only black student enrolled in the university’s College of Engineering. To make ends meet he had to work part-time as a janitor at a department store and also load boxcars during the night shift for the Pennsylvania Railroad.encounter, Jesse explained that he wanted to study architectural engineering at Ohio State — and he didn’t plan to let any such obstacles get in his way.

LEGACY: Resources

Benjamin Banneker

(02/2023)

Benjamin Banneker, (born November 9, 1731, Banneky farm [now in Oella], Maryland [U.S.]—died October 19? [see Researcher’s Note], 1806, Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.), mathematician, astronomer, compiler of almanacs, inventor, and writer, one of the first important African American intellectuals.

Banneker, a freeman, was raised on a farm near Baltimore that he would eventually inherit from his father. Although he periodically attended a one-room Quaker schoolhouse, Banneker was largely self-educated and did much of his learning through the voracious reading of borrowed books. Early on he demonstrated a particular facility for mathematics. While still a young man (probably about age 20), he built a wooden clock that kept precise time. Banneker was encouraged in the study of astronomy by George Ellicott, a Quaker and amateur astronomer whose family owned nearby mills. As early as 1788, Banneker began to make astronomical calculations, and he accurately predicted a solar eclipse that occurred in 1789. In 1791, while working with Andrew Ellicott and others in surveying the land that would become Washington, D.C., Banneker made other astronomical observations.

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LEGACY: Resources
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Wiilie O'Ree

(01/2023)

Willie O’Ree, byname of William O’Ree, (born October 15, 1935, FrederictonNew Brunswick, Canada), the first Black hockey player to play in a National Hockey League (NHL) game. He debuted with the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens at the Montreal Forum on January 18, 1958. William O’Ree was raised in a large family in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He was the youngest of 13 children of parents Rosebud and Harry. O’Ree’s grandparents came to Canada from the United States through the Underground Railroad to escape slavery. While O’Ree was growing up, only two Black families lived in Fredericton. O’Ree’s father, Harry, was a civil engineer who worked in the city’s road maintenance industry. O’Ree started playing hockey at age three and organized hockey at age five. He instantly had a passion for the game. O’Ree played regularly on the backyard rink of the family home and skated to school when weather permitted. 

LEGACY: Resources
LEGACY: Resources

Bessie Coleman

(12/2022)

Bessie Coleman soared across the sky as the first woman of African American and Native American descent to earn her pilot’s license in the U.S. Known for performing flying tricks, Coleman’s nicknames were: “Brave Bessie,” “Queen Bess,” and “The Only Race Aviatrix in the World.” Her goal was to encourage women and African Americans to reach their dreams – and this became her legacy. Though her life and career were cut short in a tragic plane crash, her life and legacy continue to inspire people around the world. 
Born in Atlanta, Texas on January 26, 1892, Bessie Coleman had twelve brothers and sisters. Her mother, Susan Coleman, was an African American maid, and her father George Coleman was a sharecropper of mixed Native American and African American descent. In 1901, her father decided to move back to Oklahoma to try to escape discrimination. Coleman’s mother decided not to go with him. Instead, Coleman, her mother, and siblings stayed in Waxahachie, Texas. Coleman grew up helping her mother pick cotton and wash laundry to earn extra money. By the time she was eighteen, she saved enough money to attend the Colored Agricultural and Normal University (now Langston University) in Langston, Oklahoma. She dropped out of college after only one semester because she could no longer afford tuition.

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LEGACY: Resources
LEGACY: Resources

Justice A.A. Birch

(10/2022)

Adolpho A. Birch, Jr. (September 22, 1932 – August 25, 2011) was an American lawyer and judge who was the first African American to serve as Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court. Birch was born in Washington, D.C. in 1932 and grew up in that city, the son of an Episcopal priest who was widowed early and subsequently raised his son as a single parent. His father’s professional concerns for his parishioners left Birch with much time on his own, and he often raised small amounts of money for himself by picking up soft drink bottles for their deposit values, and generally learned to function independently.

Birch graduated from Washington’s well-known Dunbar High School in 1950. After high school he attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania from 1950 to 1952. He then attended Howard University in Washington, where he earned the Bachelor of Arts and Doctor of Jurisprudence degrees, serving on the law review 1954-56 and graduating in 1956. He also joined Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity while in college. A Naval Reservist, he served on active duty 1956–1958.

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LEGACY: Resources

Toni Stone

(09/2022)

American baseball player who, as a member of the Negro American League’s Indianapolis Clowns, was the first woman to ever play professional baseball as a regular on a big-league team.

Stone’s love for the game began when she was a child. At age 10 she played in a league sponsored by a cereal company. At age 15 she began playing with the St. Paul Giants, a men’s semiprofessional team. After graduating from high school, Stone moved to California to live with her sister. She soon began playing centre field for the American Legion team. From there she moved to the San Francisco Sea Lions, where her batting average was .280. Stone then secured a position with the Negro league All Star team. In 1949 she began playing second base for the minor league New Orleans Creoles, and in 1953 she joined the Indianapolis Clowns, playing the same position.

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Ida B. Wells

(08/2022)

African-American journalist and activist who led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s. She also fought for woman suffrage. In 1892, Wells turned her attention to anti-lynching after a friend and two of his business associates were murdered. Tom Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Will Stewart started a grocery store, which drew customers away from a white-owned store in the neighborhood. The white store owner and his supporters clashed with Moss, McDowell, and Stewart on multiple occasions. She brought her anti-lynching campaign to the White House in 1898 and called for President McKinley to make reforms. In 1896, Wells formed several civil rights organizations, including the National Association of Colored Women. After brutal attacks on the African American community in Springfield, Illinois in 1908, Wells took action. In 1909, she attended a conference for an organization that would later become the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Though she is considered a founder of the NAACP, Wells cut ties with the organization because she felt it that in its infancy it lacked action-based initiatives.

LEGACY: Resources

Hiram Revels

(07/2022)

Hiram Revels of Mississippi became the first African American senator in 1870. Born in North Carolina in 1827, Revels attended Knox College in Illinois and later served as minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland. He raised two black regiments during the Civil War and fought at the Battle of Vicksburg in Mississippi. The Mississippi state legislature sent him to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate during Reconstruction, and he quickly became an outspoken opponent of racial segregation. Although Revels's term in the Senate lasted just a year, he broke new ground for African Americans in Congress.

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LEGACY: Resources
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Garrett A. Morgan

(06/2022)

Morgan was always interested in inventions. His tailoring business was equipped with machines that he personally designed. During the 1910s and 1920s, Morgan continued to invent new items. Most of these items were to improve safety on the streets and in the workplace. Morgan was most famous for patenting the first traffic signal in the United States. Morgan, himself an automobile owner, witnessed a crash between a car and a buggy. This event supposedly convinced the inventor to create the stoplight. On November 20, 1923, Morgan received his patent. His traffic signal was mounted on a T-shaped pole. It had three different types of signals stop, go, and stop in all directions. The stop in all directions signal was to allow pedestrians to cross streets safely. Morgan eventually patented this device in Canada and Great Britain as well. He sold his patent to General Electric Corporation for forty thousand dollars.

LEGACY: Resources
LEGACY: Resources

Misty Copeland

(05/2022)

Rising star Misty Copeland makes history as the first African American Female Principal Dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre.
When she discovered ballet, however, Misty was living in a shabby motel room, struggling with her five siblings for a place to sleep on the floor. A true prodigy, she was dancing en pointe within three months of taking her first dance class and performing professionally in just over a year: a feat unheard of for any classical dancer.

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Shirley Ann Jackson PH.D.

(04/2022)

A theoretical physicist, Dr. Jackson has had a distinguished career that includes senior leadership positions in academia, government, industry, and research. She holds an S.B. in Physics, and a Ph.D. in Theoretical Elementary Particle Physics — both from MIT. She is the first African American woman to receive a doctorate from MIT — in any field — and has been a trailblazer throughout her career, including as the first African-American woman to lead a top-ranked research university.

LEGACY: Resources

Katherine Johnson

(03/2022)

Being handpicked to be one of three black students to integrate West Virginia’s graduate schools is something that many people would consider one of their life’s most notable moments, but it’s just one of several breakthroughs that have marked Katherine Johnson’s long and remarkable life. Born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, in 1918, her intense curiosity and brilliance with numbers vaulted her ahead several grades in school. By 13, she was attending the high school on the campus of historically black West Virginia State College. At 18, she enrolled in the college itself, where she made quick work of the school’s math curriculum and found a mentor in math professor W. W. Schieffelin Claytor, the third African American to earn a PhD in mathematics. She graduated with highest honors in 1937 and took a job teaching at a black public school in Virginia.

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LEGACY: Resources
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Florence Price

(02/2022)

Florence Beatrice (Smith) Price became the first black female composer to have a symphony performed by a major American orchestra when Music Director Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played the world premiere of her Symphony No. 1 in E minor on June 15, 1933, on one of four concerts presented at The Auditorium Theatre from June 14 through June 17 during Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition. The historic June 15th concert entitled “The Negro in Music” also included works by Harry T. Burleigh, Roland Hayes, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and John Alden Carpenter performed by Margaret A. Bonds, pianist and tenor Roland Hayes with the orchestra. Florence Price’s symphony had come to the attention of Stock when it won first prize in the prestigious Wanamaker Competition held the previous year.

LEGACY: Resources
LEGACY: Resources

Sidney Poitier

(01/2022)

Sidney Poitier was born on February 20, 1927 in Miami, FL. He was born premature to his parents who were tomato farmers that traveled to and from Florida and the Bahamas. At the age of 15 his father sent him to Miami to live with an older brother in hopes that he would have better opportunities. However, he did not like Miami and after a while moved to New York. This is where he tried his hand at acting, but due to a heavy accent and limited schooling and issues having trouble reading, this brought him great difficulties. Sidney did not let this stop him and conquered both of these and became the first African American to win an Oscar in 1963.

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Guion S. Bluford Jr.

(12/2021)

Dr. Guion “Guy” S. Bluford Jr. (Colonel, USAF, Ret.) was the first African American to fly in space. He was also the first African American to return to space a second, third and fourth time. As the first African American to be awarded United States Air Force Command Pilot Astronaut Wings, he has logged over 5200 hours in high performance jet aircraft and has flown 688 hours in space.

LEGACY: Resources
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Dr. Percy Julian

(11/2021)

Percy Julian was a pioneering chemist who was not allowed to attend high school but went on to earn his Ph.D. His research at academic and corporate institutions led to the chemical synthesis of drugs to treat glaucoma and arthritis, and although his race presented challenges at every turn, he is regarded as one of the most influential chemists in American history.

LEGACY: Resources

Thurgood Marshall

(10/2021)

Thurgood Marshall was the first African American to serve on the United States Supreme Court. He was a civil rights activist with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Marshall was born on July 2, 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland, the great-grandson of a slave.  His father, William Marshall, a railroad porter, instilled in him an appreciation of the Constitution at an early age. When young Marshall got in trouble at school he was required to memorize sections of the US Constitution.   His mother, Norma Arica Williams, an elementary school teacher for 25 years, placed great emphasis on his overall scholarship.

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LEGACY: Resources

Marie Van Brittan Brown

(09/2021)

Marie Van Brittan Brown felt uneasy in her neighborhood and the police were unreliable. So, she took matters in her own hands and patented the modern home security system. Over 50 years later, the technology is installed in millions of homes and offices worldwide.
Brown was a 43-year-old African American nurse who worked long, late hours before returning home to Jamaica, Queens in New York City. Her husband, Albert Brown, an electronics technician, was away many nights. Crime in their neighborhood was high, and police were often slow to respond to emergency calls.
Brown needed a way to feel safer in her apartment. Specifically, she wanted a way to see and hear who was at the door — from any room in the house.
In 1966, Brown designed a closed-circuit security system that monitored visitors via camera and projected their images onto a television monitor. Not only that, a panic button contacted the police immediately. Brown envisioned a series of three to four peepholes at various heights; a camera would slide over these peepholes to assess the outside area. A radio-controlled wireless system would transfer the image to a monitor, or set of monitors, positioned anywhere in the residence. At the monitor, a resident could not only see who was at the door, she could also talk with that person via a set of two-way microphones. A remote control option allowed her to lock or unlock the door from a safe, or more convenient distance.

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LEGACY: Resources
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Mabel Fairbanks

(08/2021)

(09/14/1915 - 09/19/2001) Born in the Florida Everglades, Mabel was an African American and Native American women that helped paved the way for minorities to compete in figure skating. She became inspired to skate after seeing kids skate at Central Park's ice rink in New York City in 1925. She went and purchased her first pair of used skates that were two sizes too big. She stuffed them with cotton so she could begin practicing. Because of her race, she was not allowed to skate at a local ice rink, but she came back day after day until the manager let her skate. In the 1930's, she was not allowed to compete in the national qualifying event for the Olympics or any other competition. She continued to skate and performed in New York shows in the 1940's and wore pink or purple skate boots rather than the common white or black boots. After relocating to Los Angeles she began touring internationally with the Ice Capades. She would later return to the U.S. and began coaching others such as Scot Hamilton, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Debi Thomas. In 1997 she became the first African American inducted into the US Figure Skating Hall of Fame. Her legacy continues to inspire all skaters with her resilience and perseverance.

LEGACY: Resources
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